The once and final move

Ok. Moving onto my own WordPress install. Find the blog here.

Where are all the ads on FT.com?

I was doing my daily read of FT.com and to my amazement struggled to find a single non-house advert. It took several pages views before I saw a block for IBM. Is this how bad things have become?

Why this is a shoddy piece of financial reporting.

As we become more and more interested in financial news, the limits of news organisations to clearly tell the story are being pushed. Picking on this story from the BBC:

The number of mortgages lent to house buyers fell last year to its lowest level since 1974, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) has said.

There were just 516,000 mortgages granted to house buyers, down 49% from the level seen in 2007.

I’ll spare you the rest. But essentially, these numbers are meaningless unless we can see the time series data. And rather than being presented in hundreds of words of text, that time series needs to be presented in a graphic.

I have no idea how significant this number is. I have no idea what the levels in 2006 were. 2007 was, after all the start of the credit crunch. To understand what is going on, I now have to do multitudes of Google searches to find out mortgage approval levels in 2006, 2005 and 2004. Despite those being salient facts to help me assess what is going on, the BBC hasn’t provided them.
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Calamity, leadership and song: special video edition

Today’s special edition is brought to you by ‘just how close did we get to the world economy shutting down’ :


(Sorry for the freak on the first 45 seconds)

But then wouldn’t you want to be led by this man? Sully Sullenberger an exercise in leadership and worth the ten minutes it takes.

And then to wrap up, an old favourite, poking at stick at Bernanke’s reign. Were they right?

Kangaroo: a leap in the wrong direction or not?

Farewell Kangaroo. We hardly knew yea’–and I never found your URL.

A good decision or a bad one? My dear friend Emily Bell says

Killing the Kangaroo project is a perversely stupid move which begs the question whether anyone on the Competition Commission has ever actually used the internet

But here is my take: Kangaroo was misguided from the outset. Kangaroo was all about taking forward last year’s status quo, merging it with a bit of hocus co-opetition, and spitting out a broadcast model onto the Internet. The Internet is not about broadcasting. The Internet facilitates group activity and grass roots activities and reduces the costs of co-ordination, production and broadcast.

But Kangaroo was a member’s club. Only members could post (the big broadcasters). And I for one hated that.

Here was the big opportunity: the opportunity was to create a digital video aggregation, navigation and search platform that could have been people-powered. People-powered in the sense that the big guys who were big because they have historically been big (e.g. the BBC), guys who were getting bigger because they were good (Obamagirl, the Internet Turk and anyone else), and the little guys (like Techfluff) could use the platform to product, distribute and be found.

But the mindset of the broadcasters was apparently to circle wagons and create an exclusive club. Not just a club for people in their own organisation but one which, gasp, allowed members of similar organisations in. (And anyone who knows British TV knows that nearly everyone one of those people had been paid for by the license fee at some point).

That is a model that might have worked in 1999 or 2003 but we have ample evidence that the crowd needs to be accomodated in some way shape or form.

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VC in Europe: for the VCs, entrepreneurs or investors?

Congrats to the Balderton team for raising a healthy new fund, chiming in at $430m. This on the back of Accel’s Europe fund which weighed in at $500m.

Mike Butcher makes the salient point that the Balderton focus will be much larger deals that the seed deals. And we know the reasons why. Fred Destin’s commentary as to why Balderton was able to raise a fund, while a three other London funds (who shall remain nameless) are on closing plan C, D, E or F, is relevant. (Fred is a friend of mine and partner at Atlas Venture), is salient. As is his explanation for the things Balderton is likely to look for. Short hand: if you don’t already genuinely know you are capable of raising capital in this environment, you won’t

But the most interesting commentary comes from a previous post of Fred’s where he ‘fesses up:

As a venture practitioner, what do I make of this ? I am not sure I ever bought (European) venture as an attractive asset class per se, more of a market segment for investment that I found highly invigorating and where, with the right strategy, some people would manage to make money. In some ways I must confess that, whilst there is a risk that we fall below critical mass, I find the whole process quite healthy and logical.

All in all, the next few years are likely to provide a great hunting ground for those savvy investors who manage to raise capital, with reduced competition for deals, reasonable valuations, capital efficient entrepreneurs and large corporates axing their innovation programmes. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that 2008/2009, just like 2001/2002, will prove to be a great vintage year for newly raised funds. You know, that old argument about capital scarcity and fewer smart people to cancel each other’s returns might actually hold true.
[Fred's emphasis, not mine]

It’s refreshingly frank! But probably does little to allay any suggesting that the biggest winners in much of European VCs are the VCs themselves!

Counter seasonal social networks

Christmas is normally a quiet time of year for Internet sites. As families sit in and tuck in to telly and turkey, they don’t go usually online.

Except that they do if it is social networking. Robin Grant points to facebook usage in the UK over the past year–noticeable spikes of Christmas because this is the way we now choose to let our friends know how we are doing.

Low power bulbs just make economic sense. Just.

2.20.07
Image by Jeffrey Simms Photography via Flickr

Been looking at my energy bills in the wake of some startlingly high ones and am struggling to do the maths around low-cost bulbs.

The basics. Our gas supply is much cheaper than electricity, weighing in 3.6p per kWh for the bulk of our usage compared to 9.7p per kWh for the bulk of our electricity. Of our not inconsiderable bill we run 65:35 in gas’ favour. Gas powers heating, hot water and the bulk of cooking so no surprise there. A quick calculation suggests gas generates six times more of our power than electricity.

We have abnormal electricity use. I run an a freakish amount of networking equipment for a non-geek. Two routers, two wifi networks, Mac servers, hard drives, laptops. We have halogen spotlights everywhere (12 in the kitchen alone). And despite that electricity represents less than a sixth of our total energy consumption.

Getting more efficient on the gas side is simple enough: lower the thermostat, cut back on hours of heating, wear more layers. The economics speak for themselves. I have already bought socks and jumpers, the wear and tear for keeping them on while in the house is minimal.

On the electrical side the trade off just isn’t as clear. Say (and this is a big assumption), I run 12 x 50W lights, 8 hours a day, (this would be the top end of my estimate; we generally turn lights off as we move round), I am looking at a 4.8kWh daily lighting budget. This translates into 46p a day or about £180 a year.

Say each bulb has a lifespan of 2,400 hours. It would mean each bulb needs replacing once a year. Assume each bulb costs £3. The total replacement cost is £36.

So over a year my lighting costs me £216. And over five years it costs £1030, but discount it back for time (say a 5% annual time discount, deflationary times after all), we have a net present cost of £977.
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Kafkaesque-ness can survive 24 years in the wilderness

In my new office trying to organise a phone line. The Kafkaesque-osity of dealing with BT is skull crushing.
All calls to BT need to go to an 0800 number–which costs 20p a minute when you call from a mobile. Why would I call that number from a mobile not a landline? Because I don’t have one.
Engineer was due to turn up last week during a four hour window. Forty minutes after this window closed, I get a call telling me the engineer can’t make it. A new appointment is rescheduled a week later. Half way through the window with no sign of the engineer, I chase up. Bt’s web site doesn’t track my order (‘There was an error’).
Wanted to avoid a huge phone bill, I use BT’s useless (but polite) live chat service. I don’t think I could have been more clear about the issue, and I don’t think BT could have been more polite and unhelpful.

Mozilla Firefox
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

So here I am on hold, £4.40 down the pan trying to track down a BT ReachAround engineer.Twenty four years since liberalisation and it is still like navigating Sir Humphrey’s worst obfuscanandum.
£4.60.

Update: Engineer came. He was really friendly, polite, professional and installed new line in 15 minutes.

How far should the BBC open the iPlayer?

BBC iPlayer
Image via Wikipedia

StrategyEye reports that the BBC is to share iPlayer technology with its rivals. In fact the sharing plan goes beyond this–including the use of the iPlayer brand, which BBC has heavily invested in over the past few years:

ITV and Channel 4 will rebrand their online VoD services as iPlayer if the technology sharing plan is enacted, reports the Guardian. As well as saving money for its competitors, BBC sources claim the high-speed platform will become an industry standard.

This is a good step towards enacting the benefits of a BBC Public License, potentially going even further than I had expected, to include sharing the brand equity of iPlayer.

One hopes it won’t be limited to Channel 4 and ITV but also be available with anyone with video content they want to share. Why limit it to those who are already on the inside of the media inner circle? It raises the bar for genuinely new entrants into the field.

One alternative might be for iPlayer to become a distribution platform akin to Sky or Freeview. The BBC could spin it out and build a commercial, arms length relationship with Iplayer; as could ITV, C4, Sky and your next door neighbour. In this case the BBC would open the technology, the brand asset and the ownership to the public. Nice.

As a license payer I am all for turning a cost line in the license fee into a capital asset on the balance sheet of the Beeb.

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